social democrats routed in euro elections

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by David Broder

The last week’s European elections saw huge losses for Europe’s mainstream labour and social-democrat parties, with the Party of European Socialists losing 54 seats to fall to 163 MEPs as it captured a lower-than-ever share of the vote.

Not only did governing parties like New Labour (15.7%, 13 seats, -5) and the Spanish PSOE (38.5%, 21 seats, -4) fare poorly in varying degrees, but also opposition parties like the French Parti Socialiste (16.5%, 14 seats, a woeful collapse compared to its 2004 tally of 31 MEPs).

The beneficiaries of the neo-liberalised social democrats’ losses were not only Green parties (most notably Europe-Ecologie in France, which picked up 14 seats) but also the far right. The BNP picked up very strong votes in ex-mining and ex-industrial towns, most notably their 16% across Burnley.

The radical left – although in many countries not standing in that guise – failed to make real headway across the continent: the Greek left’s scores hardly reflected the winter’s tide of struggle; the Italian bloc including Rifondazione Comunista lost four of its previous seven seats; while the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France, which has made quite a splash in the media, scored a creditable 4.9%, but that was not enough to win seats as the Trotskyist LO-LCR bloc had managed in 1999.

However, there was more success for ‘left social democrats’ as each Die Linke in Germany, the Portuguese Left Bloc and the Front de Gauche (an emanation of the French Communist Party and the small Parti de Gauche) picked up a couple of seats. There was similar success for the Socialist Party in Ireland, whose recent ex-TD (MP) Joe Higgins was elected in Dublin.

The English left actually won quite a lot more votes than Respect had in 2004, but in stark contrast to the BNP and UKIP success failed to win significant numbers of votes from the Parliamentary crisis and (in particular in the BNP’s case) off the back of the recession.

The Morning Star/Bob Crow/Socialist Party No2EU initiative managed 1% of the vote (some of the alliance’s defenders say this is a credible score given that it is only just getting off the ground: but the election date has been set in stone for years, so there is not much excuse for ill-preparedness).

This tally was less even than what was scored by Arthur Scargill’s skeleton Socialist Labour Party, which had to draft in a number of members’ wives, husbands and children in order to be able to stand for every seat. The Scottish Socialist Party managed 0.9% of the vote north of the border – having scored 5.2% in the 2004 vote before its split. Adding all these groups’ totals together we get the surprisingly high tally of 340,000, which makes you think about what might have been achieved had the left got its act together over the last ten years.

As the RMT strike takes place over the next few days the memory of No2EU will drift away and members will be able to concentrate on resisting the first wave of Tory attacks, a dress rehearsal of what will come when David Cameron is Prime Minister. This much more serious matter should indeed be where the union’s focus lies. 

But we should not forget the vast waste of resources and opportunities that No2EU represented: we should learn from it, particularly if the RMT does carry out its conference policy of holding conferences to democratically decide on candidates… Some preliminary points to draw out might be (i) it is pointless to lash-up an electoral campaign a couple of months before the election under an unknown name and hope to compete with established ‘minority’ and ‘protest vote’ parties (ii) junking your principles is hardly much of a guarantee of electoral success .